Lefthanded pitchers look directly at you if you are standing on first base, Byron Buxton points out, so “it’s hard to be very sneaky over there.”
Not that Buxton requires much subterfuge to steal a base. The Twins center fielder is so fast, and gradually becoming so adept at picking his spots, that he can practically shout “I’m going,” and still beat the throw to second base.
Buxton has stolen 25 bases in 26 attempts this season, and the past 21 in a row — since he reached second base successfully at Baltimore on May 28 but was tagged out when he overslid the bag . With a 96.3 percent success rate, he’s on pace to shatter Denard Span’s Twins record of 86.7 percent, set in 2010, among players with 25 steals.
His next stolen base will tie the Twins’ franchise record of 22 in a row, set in 1994 by Chuck Knoblauch and tied early in the 2000 season by Matt Lawton.
Not that he’s keeping track. “I guarantee you, I didn’t know about” the streak, Buxton said.
“He’s on quite a run. Sometimes he runs when I know it’s going to be a little more of a risk, but there are times we have to take that chance,” said manager Paul Molitor, who once successfully stole 36 in a row while with Toronto. “Like a lot of these guys, he’s starting to trust his instincts.”
Even against lefthanders, which is a testament to Buxton’s speed, but also to his preparation. The 23-year-old swiped second base easily Friday against Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ, meaning that four of his past eight steals have come with the pitcher staring at him as he starts his motion. “As I’m up here longer, I’m learning more about lefthanded pitchers. We look at a lot of tape and go over what to look for,” Buxton said. “I’m not as hesitant as I once was to run” on lefties.
Lefthanders provide a greater danger of being picked off, but Buxton hasn’t come close to being fooled yet. “You hope that by the time guys get up here [to the majors], getting-picked-off days are behind them. In the minor leagues, you’re more inclined to chalk up a guy getting picked as him trying to get better,” Molitor said. “Righties might get you on a balk move, which isn’t called very often. The lefties might get you with their different options. It’s just him becoming comfortable in knowing he can get back [to the base], and learning to anticipate his break.”
Sano still not ready
Miguel Sano will accompany the Twins to New York on Sunday night, but only for a day. Molitor said the injured All-Star slugger has personal business to attend to, and will then return to the Twin Cities to resume his rehab from a stress reaction in his left shin.
Does Molitor expect to see Sano at all on the 10-day trip, which also goes to Detroit and Cleveland?
“I haven’t thought about whether I might or might not. It’s day to day for me,” Molitor said. “The reality is, I”m not as encouraged today as I was when we first got home, because I heard about some of the things he had done prior to our return. And it just hasn’t been a great week. He hasn’t been on the field as much as we had hoped. I know he’s been in there doing his work and he’s been able to swing a little bit. Like we’ve said all along, progress is slow.”
Buxton was sorry to hear that his former manager at Class A Fort Myers and AA Chattanooga, Doug Mientkiewicz, had been fired by the Twins.
“I loved playing for him. He helped me become a better player,” Buxton said. “He taught us how to play the game to win.”